What is content analysis?

Content analysis is a research technique used to make replicable and valid inferences by interpreting and coding textual material. By systematically evaluating texts (e.g., documents, oral communication, and graphics), qualitative data can be converted into quantitative data. Although the method has been used frequently in the social sciences, only recently has it become more prevalent among organizational scholars.

Bridging Quantitative and Qualitative

Content analysis is valuable in organizational research because it allows researchers to recover and examine the nuances of organizational behaviors, stakeholder perceptions, and societal trends. It is also an important bridge between purely quantitative and purely qualitative research methods. In one regard, content analysis allows researchers to analyze socio-cognitive and perceptual constructs that are difficult to study via traditional quantitative archival methods. At the same time, it allows researchers to gather large samples that may be difficult to employ in purely qualitative studies.

Overcoming Challenges

Although content analysis is increasingly used by management researchers as a tool to analyze text and qualitative data, many researchers are unfamiliar with the various content analysis techniques and how to deal with challenges inherent in its application. These challenges include finding adequate measures, developing proxy dictionaries and coding schemes, working with texts from various sources, ensuring reliability and validity, and conducting manual versus computer-aided content analysis.


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Goce Andrevski

Queen’s University

Andrevski’s research interests include competitive dynamics, strategic entrepreneurship and alliance networks. He uses a content analysis approach to examine competitive aggressiveness and entrepreneurial behavior of firms over time.

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Mike Bednar

University of Illinois

Bednar's research focuses on corporate governance and executive leadership. He has used content analysis to measure the tone of media coverage and to examine how the media can serve as a governance mechanism and in some cases, prompt firm action.

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Jon Bundy

Arizona State University

Bundy’s research focuses on the social and cognitive forces that shape organizational outcomes and behavior. He uses content analysis to study social evaluations, crisis management, and organizational wrongdoing. His content analysis experience ranges from simple hand-coding to advanced topic modelling and natural language processing.

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David Deephouse

University of Alberta

Deephouse used content analysis to examine the social evaluations of business organizations, specifically the legitimacy and reputation of Twin Cities commercial banks, the reputation of accounting firms, and stakeholder-specific evaluations of Wal-Mart.

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Joseph Harrison

Texas Christian University

Harrison uses content analysis to examine social and psychological processes among top executives and corporate directors. His recent work has examined the tone of media coverage as a form of social evaluation influencing directors’ reputations and decisions to serve on particular boards. He is also using content analytic techniques to understand how executives’ cognitions and personalities influence firm-level outcomes.

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Tim Hubbard

University of Notre Dame

Hubbard researches social approval assets, Chief Executive Officers, and boards of directors. He has used a combination of dictionary-based and machine learning techniques to analyze rhetoric and discourse. His research has analyzed the content of press releases, media coverage, conference calls, Facebook posts, and transcripts from various experiments. His methods have used a combination of R, LIWC, and NVivo.

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Candace Jones

Boston College

Jones’ research interests focus on cultural frameworks, cultural meaning and social structures. She examines vocabularies to locate actors’ logics and cultural meanings within professions and creative industries.

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Mark Kennedy

Imperial College London

Kennedy’s research combines strategy and organization theory to understand how new product market categories, organizational forms, and related social movements come to be seen as social realities. He uses content analysis of media and online commentary to analyze the emergence of shared understanding of terms used to refer to these important social structures.

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Jason Kiley

Oklahoma State University

Kiley researches firm perceptions and impression management are related to significant firm outcomes and behaviors. His recent work uses content analysis for event classification, impression management detection, and sentiment analysis.

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Brayden King

Northwestern University

King's research focuses on how social movement activists influence corporate governance, organizational change, and legislative policymaking. He also studies the ways in which the organizational identities of social movement organizations and businesses emerge and transform in response to their institutional environments.

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Andreas König

University of Passau

König studies the socio-cognitive effects of top executives’ communication. He uses various approaches of content analysis – from manual coding to deep learning algorithms – to measure concepts such as metaphorical communication, leader humor, cognitive frames, and the favorability of journalists and securities analysts.

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Aaron McKenny

University of Central Florida

McKenny’s research using content analysis has focused on how researchers can use computer-aided text analysis to measure organizational phenomena directly at the organizational level.

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Moriah Meyskens

University of San Diego

Meyskens uses content analysis to analyze social ventures and corporate social responsibility trends. Specifically she has used Nvivo and manual content analysis to evaluate the profiles of social entrepreneurs and social venture business plans to better understand their partnerships and resources used to attain a competitive advantage. She also has content analyzed the websites of organizations to better understand their corporate social responsibility practices.

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Vilmos Misangyi

Penn State University

Misangyi researches how managerial and organizational actions influence and are influenced by their external environments. He has used content analysis techniques to examine the effects that charismatic language in organizational discourse (e.g., CEO vision statements in letters to shareholders) has on external organizational participants.(e.g., securities analysts).

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Sucheta Nadkarni

University of Cambridge

Nadkarni researches how CEO and executive cognitive and psychological orientations shape firm actions differently in different industry environments. She has used content analysis techniques such as causal mapping, psycholinguistics and histriometrics to elicit executive personality, attention and temporal orientations from archival source such as annual reports, published interviews, speeches, press releases and conference calls.

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Paula O’Kane

University of Otago

O’Kane uses a combination of content analysis and grounded theory to explore the social impact of computer-mediated communication on the relationships and communication between employees within an organisation. Paula supports this through the use of Computer-Aided Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS). She also has a keen interest in examining the impact of CAQDAS software within research projects.

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Mike Pfarrer

University of Georgia

Pfarrer uses content analysis to examine external perceptions of firm actions related to reputation, celebrity, and crisis management. His recent research has analyzed traditional and web-based media accounts of stakeholders’ reactions to earnings surprises and product recalls.

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Nelson Phillips

Imperial College London

Phillips uses content analysis in research on organizational discourse, including theoretical and empirical applications.

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Tim Pollock

University of Tennessee

Pollock uses content analysis to investigate the social construction of markets and the media’s impact on public impressions of the firm. Specifically, he has analyzed CEO celebrity, earnings surprises, and the role of market ”experts” in shaping impressions about IPO performance and survival.

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Rhonda Reger

University of Missouri

Reger uses content analysis to examine external perceptions of firm actions related to reputation dynamics. Along with Vincent Duriau and Michael Pfarrer, her paper exploring the uses of content analysis in management research won the 2007 best publication award from Organizational Research Methods. She first used content analysis in 1993 (with Marjorie Lyles) to study upward influence in joint ventures. Her recent research analyzes traditional and web-based media accounts of stakeholders’ reactions to product recalls and alternative energy.

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Violina Rindova

University of Southern California

Rindova uses content analysis to examine patterns of organizational sensegiving and media sensemaking. She has conducted both open-ended and structured content analysis for theory development and theory testing.

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Jeremy Short

University of Oklahoma

Short’s research focuses on multilevel determinants of firm performance, strategic decision processes, entrepreneurship, research methods, franchising and family business.

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Klaus Weber

Northwestern University

Weber examines cultural and institutional dynamics at the level of markets and fields. He uses content analysis to identify repertoires of meaning (cultural toolkits), and to relate these repertoires to social structures. He has used documents produced in different languages by firms, financial analysts, movement activists and newspapers; and analyzed them for sensemaking, framing and justification repertoires as well as for associative meaning structures.

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Miles Zachary

Auburn University

Zachary uses content analysis to investigate phenomena related to issues of organizational identity and signaling by examining a variety of organizational narratives. His work has focused on operationalizing constructs using CATA and testing the performance implications of firm-level measures.

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Anastasiya Zavyalova

Rice University

Zavyalova uses content analysis to study management of social approval assets, such as reputation and celebrity. She specifically focuses on the process of social perception management after wrongdoing. In a recent paper published in the Academy of Management Journal, Zavyalova employed manual and computer-assisted content analysis techniques in the context of product recalls.